"Electric Terry" interview part 2: The Ironbutt, Charger the dog and how EVs can support the power grid
I'd been on the road for a week or two, so I was itching to tug on a throttle cable when I got back to Santa Cruz. Luckily, thanks to the worldwide brotherhood of motorcycle people, a KTM Superduke fell in my lap thanks to Liza Miller of the Motorcycles & Misfits podcast community and I was able to get out on the road with some local riders.
In our gaggle of bikes, one stood out, not because it was electric, but because of the drama playing out on its tank. "Electric Terry" Hershner now rides with Charger, a canine companion whose sled dog genes get her extremely excited when she's riding in a pack. As a result, despite the fact that she's clipped on to Terry at all times, she's all but turning somersaults as we wind our way up through the twisties.
She absolutely loves riding, and absolutely hates being away from Terry's side, as I'd earlier discovered when I got the job of driving her 50 miles from Carmel to Scotts Valley as Hershner rode a bike that wasn't set up for her.
At the end of a fun afternoon on fast bikes, I sat down again with Electric Terry to finish our chat about the first electric Ironbutt, the Vetter Challenge, riding with his manic dog Charger and a future in which two-way EV charging can support the power grid. Check out Part One here if you haven't already. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:
Loz: So everyone's aware that long-range riding is a weak point for electric motorcycles. How do the numbers work out for an electric Ironbutt attempt?
I did the Ironbutt, a thousand miles (1m609 km) in 24 hours, in 2014. I did about 150 miles (241 km) per charge, and I'd charge in a little under an hour using four J-plugs at a time. I had to find locations that had four next to each other, and I'd use them all.
I met the CEO of Chargepoint up near San Jose, he said "tell you what, you leave here right now, and come back with a bottle of authentic tequila from Mexico in less than 24 hours, using all my company's charging stations, and I'll give you a sum of money."
So we got pictures of us shaking hands, and the deal was on. And I made it – I didn't buy the tequila, but I made it to Mexico. If I'd gone across the border to get tequila, I would've lost about five hours in the border crossings.
I made 1,047 miles (1,685 km) in a little under 23 hours. I was the first guy to get an Ironbutt on an electric motorcycle. The President of the Ironbutt association sent me a note saying "we knew this was coming eventually, but we thought it was still a couple years out. Congratulations!"
Loz: So tell us about the Vetter Challenge.
The Vetter Challenge is an event where people from all over the world get together to compete and see who can go the furthest distance on the least fuel, as measured in dollars and cents.
Loz: so it's an aerodynamics challenge.
Yes. Every time there's a fuel crisis, there's suddenly a lot of interest in aerodynamics. In the late 70s, there was a fuel crisis, so Craig Vetter started doing these things called the Vetter Challenges. He held them from 1981 to 1985, and every year the gas mileages just started getting better and better.
It started out at just over 100 miles per gallon (2.35 l/100km), people on 250cc bikes, some on 125s and 100s. They'd put aerodynamics on them, and they'd have to get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time so you couldn't sandbag.
I think it was a guy named Charlie Perethian, or Masakazu Matsuzawa, one of them, using a rifled fairing, got 470 miles per gallon (0.5 l/100km) by 1985. It was a tiny little XL80 motorcycle, big aerodynamic fairing, and he's tucked in real small.
Anyway, Craig started the Challenge again in 2010 when gas prices went back up. And now you could use alternative fuels and electric vehicles. And we did it by cost – add up the cost of the fuel to cover whatever distance, and the lowest cost is the winner. With electric, because a lot of charge stations are free, they do it based on what electricity retails for in that area.
Loz: Well, if they're the rules, wouldn't the electrics just leave the rest for dead?
Electrics have always used the least cost per mile, but never before in history had an electric entered Craig's challenge, because nobody could ever complete one.
The one that I entered in 2014 was 172 miles (277 km), it was the longest they'd ever done. And we were going at extremely fast speeds. We did it up in Bonneville, Utah, where the speed limit is 80 mph (129 km/h). Obviously, the faster you go, the worse it is for range. So it was the longest and the fastest Vetter challenge ever. Most of those challenges were done over in Ohio about 100 miles at about 55 mph (161 km at 89 km/h).
But because of the aerodyamics on the bike, we were able to do the entire 172 miles on a single charge at 80 mph. I think it took about 21 kilowatt-hours to recharge the bike, so I won the cost per mile.
Three weeks later, I did the Ironbutt. I figured if I could do 172 miles on a charge, I'll plan my charge stops around 120-150 miles apart (193-241 km). I should be able to do this.
Loz: So… riding with a dog like Charger. Why? Haha!
Well, I'll tell you what. I originally bought a Pomski. You breed a male Pomeranian with a female Husky, and you're supposed to get something in the middle. And Charger, well, she's a fair way north of the middle in terms of weight!
If you'd asked me a year ago, hey Terry, would you adopt a 50-lb (23-kg) dog and teach it to ride a motorcycle, I'd be like, hell no, you can't ride with a 50-lb dog on your tank! And I would've been thinking about some sort of docile dog like a Golden Retriever or something like that.
But the thing is, I can't give her back at this point! If she leaves me for more than three minutes, she whines incessantly. And it's not like if I leave for an hour she'll stop barking after 15 minutes, she keeps going and going and going.
Loz: I have experienced this.
Loz: But the idea all along was to get a dog you could ride with.
Yeah, a companion. I've been riding, doing records, riding across the country five times, setting Ironbutts, doing it all by myself. But I'm a people person, I like going out, socializing, talking to people, and I realized I'm not going to be able to get another human being to come with me until I get married.
The dog doesn't talk, but she's a companion. And if I'm going to continue to go on doing these things and traveling and setting records, I want someone to go with me.
There's a couple sections of road I've traveled a few times now where there's just nothing to do. I was really wanting somebody to talk to. Well, let me tell you, I'm not bored anymore!
I'm constantly on my toes now, wondering if some car's going to drive by with a cute little German Shepherd sticking its head out the window, and I'm going to have to fight for dear life to keep my bike from falling over! Haha!
Loz: So what's the process of training her?
Basically, starting her as an absolute puppy. Puppies sleep all the time, they're awake very little. By the time they get to around four months old, they can stay awake all day long, but before that they're always sleeping.
So I had a little tank basket, like a little airplane carry case you can carry a small dog in, and I strapped that to the tank of my motorcycle, put some nice padding in there, and put her in and we'd go for a ride. She'd kind of look around for a little while, and then just lay down and go to sleep.
And I could just zip her up in there, and after a couple weeks of riding short distances, every now and then I'd see a little head trying to poke out, so I'd unzip it, and she'd poke her head out and look around and see what was going on. She'd sort of go "ok, that's what's going on" and pop back down and go to sleep again.
So in her dreams from being a puppy, she's already got all the motions of motorcycling down. She knows that when we're coming to a stop, she's got to put her paws forward, or she'll go tumbling. She has an intuitive understanding of acceleration and braking and turning.
If somebody ever wanted to take her surfing, or bodyboarding or skateboarding, that's a dog who can balance!
Loz: So she's got a little seat belt on there?
Yeah. She's strapped to me. I've got one other strap that ties her to the bike, but if there was ever an accident, that one would break. That's just because she sometimes wants to jump to the left. (sound of screams from nearby table) Oh god, wait a minute…
(at this point, Charger has run over and started disturbing a newborn baby, and terrorizing other tables in search of pizza)
Loz: she's realized that these people at tables have pizza.
Yeah! She thought somebody might have dropped a slice. Unfortunately, she managed to scare the crap out of a little baby that instinctively thought there was a wolf coming to eat her family.
Where were we… So she has this tendency to want to jump to the left. Huskies were designed to never want to stop moving. And they always want to be in the lead, they always want to pull ahead.
So the problem is, we're on the bike, and she doesn't know how to sit still. If you ever see a slow-mo video of us riding, she actually thinks she's pulling the bike. But she's pulling on me! Have you held her on a leash before? She pulls with about 50 pounds (23 kg) of force, so I'm having to bench press 50 pounds all day long.
Loz: That'll keep you in shape…
I don't go to a gym, but I work out!
Loz: So just describe what happened when we went for a ride today?
Yeah, I told the guy that was leading the ride that we'd have to be near the front. So we're riding at a pretty decent pace, both you and Noc are good riders… It's hard for me to throw my weight over on the seat like I used to, because I'd pull her with me.
But if I'm in a corner, and I've got my perfect line set, and then all of a sudden she decides to jerk to one side or the other, that puts 50 pounds of weight where I'm not expecting it. So I have to ride with plenty in reserve.
Loz: She was active on that bike today, man, she was jumping all over the place!
She's trying to catch the bike up front, going "Terry, we're not going fast enough!" If I'm in the lead, she'll sit back and look at the bikes behind us.
Loz: Yeah, she was turning around and looking at me. But she's looking over one of your shoulders, then popping up around the other side, and her tail's swishing past your face...
Yeah, I don't know what's going on half the time. She's definitely not scared. It's probably adrenaline because we're going so fast. And she just can't sit still! She's got to move! It makes it interesting, for sure!
Loz: It's pretty scary to watch!
I would never recommend anyone try to ride with a dog greater than 25 pounds (11.3 kg). And definitely not anything that's got a working dog type of breed. Get yourself a little lap dog or a poodle or something. (laughs)
But I am where I am now, and I'm never going to stop riding, and I'm never going to give her up, so we're just going to try to make it better. But it's a spectacle, that's for sure!
Loz: It sure is!
What's it look like from behind, you got to tell me! When she jumps, does the whole bike move around?
Loz: I didn't see a whole lot of that, I just saw a man trying to control a motorcycle with a dog all but breakdancing on the tank there. She's just constantly side to side to side, spinning around in circles.
I don't tell people that this happens. They already think that riding with a dog on the bike is dangerous enough. If they only knew… Let me tell you though, the speeds we were riding today, we were kind of pushing it. I usually ride at about 80 percent of that, and I feel very much in control.
Loz: Oh, it didn't look like you were out of control. But she also didn't get a walk this morning, so there's other factors.
Right. And it was interesting, I found two new limitations on today's ride. We got a motor overheating limitation on the way up, and then we got a complete and utter brake failure going down the mountain.
Loz: The other thing I wanted to talk about was, you're on the board of the National Electric Auto Association, and you're working on new standards for two-way charging?
Well, the Association was started in 1967. It was basically a group of electrical engineers that wanted to promote electric vehicles. If you were somebody that wanted to drive an electric car, there weren't really any resources to tell you how to do it. So this was an organization that shared information.
But because it's the largest organization of its kind anywhere in the world, with a lot of EV drivers, there's a lot of good resources there for developing policy and so forth. Standards are a valued resource. We're looking at what's out there now, and making recommendations on the way things should go in the future.
Obviously, when business decides to do something, the ones that get the money get to make the choices themselves. But we like to be an information source and a recommendation source.
Loz: Right. And you're talking about a situation where the batteries of cars that are plugged in and charging could be able to communicate electricity with the grid in both directions to smooth out power spikes and actually help the power companies out a little bit. Can you talk me through that?
Sure. There's no doubt in my mind that this is going to happen. Whether it happens three or five years from now. I don't think it's going to be any less than five years from now before this happens.
So, say my Zero SR motorcycle. When I go full throttle on my SR, it's got about 50 kilowatts worth of power going out – 50 kilowatts is enough to power… 7 x 7 is 49… the motorcycle could power the startup energy of seven house air conditioner systems, or continuously run air-con for about 50 houses.
That's a lot of power, and that's instead of the power having to come from the power company where it's actually created – a coal-fired plant, a nuclear plant or a gas plant.
Most of these plants are 20 to 40 miles (32-64 km) away from where you're using the electricity. The transmission losses for this energy are sometimes up to 50 percent, just the energy you lose going through the power lines.
The harder you're trying to suck power, the harder the current has to feed through the line, and the worse your power factor gets. It would be best, when those sharp loads come on, to have that demand met locally. But until electric vehicles, we've never really had local power sources of that magnitude.
So if the air-con in this building came on, a small, sharp load for a short amount of time, a little bit of power coming out of my motorcycle is really not much to ask from the bike.
And eventually we'll have hundreds of electric vehicles plugged in all over every major city, it's only logical that these sharp spikes in electrical demand will be smoothed out by the electric cars, while the baseline demand will be met by the grid.
Loz: Right, because any car that's plugged in becomes a battery resource.
It's basically a power plant. A car could have 100 kilowatt-hours, just a Tesla alone, I don't know the horsepower or torque numbers but my guess is it's six to eight times what the Zero SR is.
Honestly, a Tesla could power a small town by itself. You have a couple of these things plugged in, and in my opinion there's no reason why you'd have stationary battery on the grid when you have all these mobile power sources on the grid.
Not every battery on that grid is going to be in use. There's always going to be a few that are plugged in, not being used. And maybe when the batteries degrade to the point where they're not useful in a vehicle any more, when they've lost 20 percent of their capacity, maybe instead of being recycled straight away, they could be used for grid backup energy for those demand spikes. Maybe they'd be useful til they ran down to 50 percent of their capacity, I don't know, that's up to economies of scale to figure out.
But it's probably what, seven years or so before we have a large number of used EV batteries on the market. Let's use the cars for now!
Loz: So you'd plug your car or bike in to charge, and then what happens?
I see there being four or five options. Maybe you'd choose what you're going to do.
Maybe you want to charge as fast as possible. You're going to be sitting there, sipping a beer, waiting for your car to be ready to go. Because of that, you'd probably pay the highest rate for the electricity you get.
Then you get a guy that says "hey, I want to charge as fast as I can, but it's OK if I don't." He'd get a couple cents cheaper rate. And he might even charge just as fast as the guy that said "I need it right now," if there's no demand that needs to pull some out. But you're the first line buffer.
Then you'll get the guy that says "listen, I actually don't have anywhere to go, I'm plugged in, but I only have three miles to go to get home. If you need a demand out, I want to be first in line, and I want to be compensated for it." That guy would get a lower rate, he might even get something back for every watt-hour that went out of his motorcycle.
This is how I see it going. And I see it as something you can decide on your mobile phone. You might have a standard procedure you can just leave it on all the time, and under certain circumstances you can choose to charge as fast as you possibly can. But it'd need to be a very simple user interface.
Loz: So who's working on this system?
The Electric Auto Association's trying to work on standards for this sort of thing, but there's companies out there too. EV Grid is working on it. The power companies, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, they're all trying to figure out how to do this.
There's been whitepapers written by a bunch of private firms that are trying to figure out the systems to make this work. I'm sure they're all talking to each other, and working out a way so that consumers can be at ease. Like, there won't be any additional battery degradation, because it'll be done mostly when the battery is in its center state of charge, not the lower 20 percent and not above 80 percent.
But my guess is that we should be hearing a lot more in the next year or two, and it'll be a reality in around five years. I'm confident of that. It's just so logical that the idea of it not happening seems very improbable to me.
Loz: Is this going to require a different type of charging infrastructure to be put in?
It'll work with some of the ones that are already out there, but not the main one that's already out there. The main one out there right now is what's called J1772. They call it Level Two. It's basically AC, same as your dryer outlet at home, but with a fancy plug that's got some security and safety devices on it.
We're not going to be able to feed back through that. This will be done through the DC fast chargers. DC is a direct connection back and forth. You'll be able to take DC directly out of your battery and put it into the charger itself, and then it'll go through an inverter of its own to put it back into the grid as AC.
Loz: So what, CHAdeMOs?
CHAdeMOs, DC combo, CCS, the combined plug, and the Tesla superchargers will also be able to do this.
Loz: And I guess as things come online, and more and more cars and large batteries start getting plugged into the grid at a given time, does this become a strange way that we might get to that grid-level energy storage we need to make renewable energy more useful?
That's right. Because it'll be based on a market kind of system. Let's say you've got a bunch of wealthy older guys with Teslas, and they don't drive many miles a day. And there's five sunny days in a row, but then two cloudy days, and we've got a large amount of sloar feeding into the system. What would happen is those Tesla owners would be rewarded by being paid for the energy coming out of their pack, and they'd actually be supplementing the grid.
We'd still have our other sources, our coal and nuclear and gas, but hopefully we'll need less and less of them. It'll probably be a while before we completely get away from them.
If we went to a world with all solar and wind power, and then you get a non-windy day and a cloudy day for too many days in a row, and you don't have any backup systems – this is where it'd be good to keep the traditional plants around. Maybe you'd only run 'em 40 days a year when the conditions required it.
Loz: And you've got distributed grid-level battery storage, just by virtue of all the electric cars that are plugged in.
That's right. A Tesla could power a retired person's home for, what, say the P100D, a retired person probably uses something like 15 to 20 kilowatt-hours a day. You could power that home for nearly a week off a full battery.
Loz: It's the Tesla Powerwall on wheels.
That's my logic about this. When I was building a bunch of electric vehicles, the most expensive part was the battery, every time. I had batteries for the dirt bike, and I was also going to build a battery for the electric bicycle, and one for the skateboard. But most of the time, it'll be me using this, and I can't ride all three at the same time.
It didn't make sense to me to have anything just sit there. Lithium batteries will degrade on their own without being used over about 10 years. Might as well use 'em. It makes sense once a battery's been built to use it all the time if possible. I can't see the sense in having something sitting on a wall, when you could be driving it around.
And if you've got your Tesla, and you're out driving it around, your house shouldn't be consuming a whole lot of electricity anyway. If it is, and you're not even home, you need to manage your energy use better.
So what they're working on right now, a company called Electric Motor Works, the same company that's making the DigiNow charger that's on the side of my motorcycle…
Loz: …which has been the talk of the Zero anniversary party!
Yeah. They're working on instantaneous grid response demand. Not for giving power back, but for reducing demand on the grid immediately. So your EV is plugged in, and you're signed up for the program to be on the demand response.
Say we've got 300 vehicles in Santa Cruz county plugged in right now. And say there's a sudden spike in demand. The first option then goes to all the electric cars that are plugged in, and says "hey, do you mind turning off and not charging for a few seconds right now?"
And if you're registered for it, the car goes "no problem, I'll go down to six-kilowatt charging, or down to three, or off altogether if that's what you need." And if hundreds of cars are doing that at the same time, you have a huge ability to control spikes in demand on the grid instantaneously.
So instead of sending power from the batteries back, we're solving the problem by reducing the demand that the electric vehicles are putting on the grid. And the users will get compensated for any time they don't spend charging.
Loz: So does that bring everyone's power bill down?
No, right now the EV owner gets rewarded for it. Normally the power company has to eat that demand and buy power from another power company. And in peak times that might be quite expensive.
So it'll be good for the power companies, and they'll pass some of that saving back to the EV owner.
We want to thank Electric Terry for his time and hospitality, as well as the Zero Motorcycles and Motorcycles & Misfits crews. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be able to share a chat like this. Check out Part One of our Electric Terry interview, if you missed it.
More information: "Electric Terry" Hershner's Facebook page